Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Curse of Knowledge: Creating a Culture of Web Analytics

Presenting the data is what Web Analysts do majority of the time. It is critical for Web Analysts to present the data in a way that is easily understood by their intended audience. However, I have seen time and again that this simple rule is missed. Why? Because we all suffer from what is known as "The Curse of Knowledge".

What is The Curse of Knowledge?

Here is what 37Signals.com write on this subject:
Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.

"Curse of Knowledge" becomes a big issue for Web Analysts and Managers who are trying to create a Culture of Web Analytics. We assume that people know what we know because it seems so simple, right? Think again. Even simple metrics such as Visits, Visitors and Page views that seem so simple and no-brainer to you are difficult for others to understand.

If the numbers/data/reports that you present to the stakeholders do not provide them what they need in a simple and easy to understand format then you are in for a very though journey to building a Culture of Web Analytics.
To further illustrate my point, let me tell you about a situation that I personally had to go through.

I was approached by a mortgage agent who wanted me to refinance my mortgage and claimed that he had better rates than any other lender in the area. So I thought, sure let me see what this guy has to offer. So we met and I gave him my goals

  1. The amount that I wanted to refinance
  2. The interest rate range that I was comfortable with
  3. $0 closing fee

I also asked him to tell me how much my monthly payment was going to be for those interest rates. We decided to watch the interest rates to see when they fall in my range and he promised to send me the daily interest rates.

That’s all.

Next day he sends me the following table with some explanation of the two columns. All this did not make sense to me, and I deal with numbers all day long. He also wrote that he will explain this to me over the phone.

So he called and tried to explain me the above chart but he still did not answer my earlier questions. See the problem?

If you have to call someone to explain your data that mean you have not done a good job of understanding him and his needs.

You see how easily you can alienate someone by not presenting the information in the right way. That’s the issue you face when you are trying to sell value of analytics within your organization. People look at your reports few times, find it too complex to understand and move over to other things. If that happens then you are done.

So do not fall a victim to “Curse of Knowledge”, step in your audiences’ shoes and make your reports really simple and actionable. Three key points to remember when presenting the data are
  1. Understand your audience and their goals
  2. Understand their level of understanding of the subject matter
  3. Customize the data presentation to meet your audience level of understanding of web analytics and needs. Make it a no-brainer to understand and tie everything back to the business goals
Questions? Comments?

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